6. Walking Forth in the Spirit. Practicing Discernment in Personal Life and in Communities

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you will be able to discern the will of God—what is good, acceptable and perfect” – Romans 12:2.

In Plenary meeting, the community participates and comes to a greater self-awareness in fulfilling its commitments and in directing, evaluating and discerning those matters which affect both its own internal character and the tasks it has to perform – CC 110.


Through the public profession of evangelical vows, we have offered to God “the free ability to arrange the course of our lives.” [1] Commitment to do the will of God is at the core of our consecrated life. When we take decisions, how do we know that it is the will of God? In the words of Pope Francis, “The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift we must implore”. [2]

The XXV General Chapter asked every community to elaborate together its “Community Project” (vision, mission and life) in a spirit of discernment, prayer and togetherness and place under community discernment our apostolic commitments and the status of our fraternal life. [3] In this module we shall reflect on the process of our personal and community discernment in order to make it a normal part of Claretian missionary culture.

1. What are your criteria for making choices?

As individuals and as communities, we make small and big choices every day. Some decisions have far-reaching consequences. Let us take some examples from everyday life:

  • Accepting a mandate from the superiors for a mission for which there is no interest.
  • Handling a situation of crisis when love for missionary life competes with a growing special affection for a loving female companion.
  • Experience of emptiness in life and ministry while thoughts of joining a diocese have become constant. Personal freedom and financial liberty of diocesan friends becomes more alluring.
  • Purchasing a wide screen LED TV for the community though there is a TV which is still functional.
  • Starting a new ministry to respond to a need in the mission, but there is risk of failure and being ridiculed by others.
  • A young man shows interest to join the congregation. You have a feel that he is not transparent, and his motivations are not clear. As Vocation animator you want to give a try.

In your everyday decision making, do you include the movement of the Spirit in you so that you can honestly say, “the Holy Spirit and you”[4] decided the matter?

The Lord says, “Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare, and not for your harm, to give you a future with hope.”[5] Discernment is the art of aligning our lives both personally and in community with God’s vision for us by taking decisions towards realizing it.´

Before you proceed, recall one of the recent important decision that you made in your personal life and another in your community. How did you make these decisions? What processes did you and your community engage in taking the decisions?

2. Discernment, Christian way of navigating the course of journey in the world

2.1 Learning from Jesus

Through his life and words Jesus taught his disciples how to do the Father’s will rather than follow one’s own immediate inclinations. Even as a young boy Jesus’ life was oriented to the Father, “Didn’t you know that I should be in my Father’s house?” [6] Jesus kept the purpose of his life clearly before him in all circumstances. He was candid to his disciples, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to carry out his work.” [7] Jesus’ intimate way of doing the will of the Father became vivid in the passion narrative. In the agony of the garden we see the following three steps he followed:

  • S Juan Iquitos 14Aware ness of what is going on in him: “Now my soul is deeply troubled.” [8] Jesus is able to name his inner experience, “My soul is full of sorrow, even to death.”
  • [9]Recognition of the human tendencies to flee from the ordeal: “Shall I say, Father save me from this hour?” [10] “Father, all things are possible for you; take this cup away from me.”
  • [11]Affirmation of his mission and surrender to the will of the Father: “But to face this I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” [12] “Not my will, but yours be done.” [13]

After the resurrection, Jesus walked with the disheartened disciples on the way to Emmaus and engaged them in a process of discernment. [14] They returned to their missions with joy. The disciples leant the art of walking in the Spirit and keep their gaze fixed on the Risen Lord when they had to take decisions.

2.2 Discernment in the early Church (Acts 15)

The Acts of the Apostles gives one of the best examples of communal discernment. There were life issues that caused serious tensions that rocked the growing early Christian community. They experienced serious differences among them about accepting gentiles into their fold with the requirement to follow the “Law of Moses” especially the rite of circumcision. The issue touched upon cherished cultural and social practices and theological meaning which were not easy to reconcile. The meeting of Jerusalem was called to discern the will of God on such a sensitive issue. The circumcision party even travelled about 250 miles to Antioch to impose circumcision on non-Jewish Christians and had open conflict with Paul and Barnabas.[15] The matter was taken for discernment in the presence of apostles and elders. The following are the important components of the process of discernment:

  • Addressing the core issue: The question of how we are saved. The circumcision party linked salvation to obedience to the law of Moses (v.1). For Paul and Barnabas salvation is by the graceof the Lord Jesus (v.11) through faith (Acts v.9).
  • Participation of the entire community in the discernment process. No one was excluded. Awareness of the unity and togetherness of the Church despite bitter debate as expressed in the wholehearted ownership of the decision by all with the clear consciousness of the lead of the Holy Spirit in the process, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (v. 26).
  • Presentation of perspectives, and even heated discussions (v. 7).
  • Looking into the data. Different interventions in the meeting focussed on what God did in the life of the pagans through the preaching of the Gospel. God has offered the gift of the Holy Spirit equally to those who did not observe the law of Moses (v.8). The grace and action of God is above customs and practices of ancestors (v. 10). Miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the non- Jews through the apostles that testify salvation of God reaching to all through the faith in Jesus (v.12).
  • Silence and attentive Listening by the whole assembly (v. 12).
  • The role of the Jerusalem Church and “the apostles and elders” (vv. 4,6,22) especially Peter and James.
  • Confirmation of the experiential reality in the light of the promises of God to the prophets (vv. 15-16).
  • Final decision and practical tips to integrate the wisdom of the differences. Communication of the outcome of the meeting by the “apostles and elders with the whole Church” who sent representatives to the churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia with a letter. [16]
  • Joy and peace experienced in the community after the decision. “All were delighted by the encouragement it gave them” (v. 31) and the messengers were sent off in peace by the believers (v. 33).

The meeting of Jerusalem was an honest search of the will of God for a community facing crucial questions for which there were no established norms. They shared their concerns and discerned what the Lord was asking them in a new situation. Faith in the Lord and experience of the action of the Holy Spirit in them were crucial to transcend limiting perceptions and uncritical attachment to traditions.

The Church has cherished the practice of discernment in the treasury of her spiritual heritage to which the fathers of the Church and saints added from their experiences. St. Ignatius of Loyola has popularized the practice of discernment of spirits through his spiritual exercises. Unfortunately, Church also suffered divisions, heresies and got manipulated by political forces when she ignored the time-proved principles of spiritual discernment and sought to please the world than her Lord. Today, there is a growing awareness of the need for spiritual discernment in the Church to learn to walk in the Spirit of the Risen Lord in our times.

2.3. Discernment in Claret’s life

The entire life of our Father Founder was marked by his search for the will of God and to fulfill it in his life even though this process was arduous and demanded many renunciations. A prayer that Claret often repeated to the Lord reflected this whole process very well, My Lord and Father, I want nothing more than to know your holy will, so that I may do it; nothing more than to love you with all my heart and serve you with all fidelity.” [17]

Claret understood that in order to discern how to live his missionary vocation faithfully, he needed, first of all, to cultivate humility, and, therefore, he did his examen of conscience on humility for more than 15 years. [18] This virtue allowed him to become aware of the temptation to live centred on himself and on the possible selfish interests that can prevent his life from being anchored in God’s love and live with trust, gratitude and dedication. He cultivated an attitude of constant openness to the will of God and augmented the process of discernment through prayer, listening to the Word of God, dialogue with trusted people and obedience to the authority of the Church. There were many critical moments in his life when Claret practiced the delicate process of discernment in order to be faithful to his missionary vocation. We highlight a few here:

  • When the word of God impelled him to leave the parish of Sallent to go to Rome to offer himself as a universal missionary. [19]
  • When he returned home from Rome, he had to discern between staying in within the comfort zone of the small parish of Viladrau or going out to preach in the towns of Catalonia and the Canary Islands. [20]
  • The archbishop’s crisis that occurred immediately after the foundation of the Congregation; It took him two months to discern in prayer and dialogue whether to accept or not. [21]
  • When the complex Cuban situation led him to a continuous discernment on how to render his service in Cuba. After Holguín’s attack he thought it necessary to present his resignation to the Pope. [22]
  • In Madrid, he had to discern about his inner thirst to run around the world to preach the word of God or his duty to stay as a shepherd of a single sheep (Confessor of the queen) in the middle of a hostile political environment that turned out to be a true ordeal for him. [23]

We can synthesize this whole process in the words he wrote a few months before he died: “All the things I will do and each one in particular will be as perfectly as possible. The impulsive cause will be the Love of God. The intentional cause will be the greatest glory of God. The final cause will be to do the will of God.” [24]

2.4 Creating a culture of community discernment in our Congregation

In a complex and fast challenging scenario of our world, we need the grace of discernment and develop it as our typical way of finding God’s will for our lives and communities. We become relevant and credible in the Church and the world only by being truly Claretian missionaries in the style of Claret without domesticating our charism to fit the standards of the world. The grace of discernment and its practice at individual and community levels will “help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow.” [25] Through the grace of discernment, we learn to perceive God’s language in prolonged silence of prayer, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, calm our anxieties and to tune ourselves to the purpose of our lives and of our congregation, which nobody knows better than God himself. [26] We should learn to discern and act “according to God’s heart.”[27]

Pope Francis has given us four specific principles which can guide our discernment process. They are the following:

  • Time is greater than space: This principle helps us to work slowly but surely without obsessed with immediate results and patiently enduring adverse situations or inevitable changes in our plans.
  • Unity prevails over conflict: This principle helps us not to lose perspective and sense of reality by being trapped in conflict but urge us to build communion amid disagreement. On the ground of solidarity, conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified, and life-giving unity brought out by the Holy Spirit. [28]
  • Realities are more important than ideas: This principle keeps us from the danger of dwelling only in the world of good ideas and rhetoric and challenge us to face reality. It connects us to the mystery of incarnation, the word becoming flesh. The salvific action of the Spirit in the history of the Church impels us to put the word into practice and make it fruitful through works of justice and charity in continuity to the millennial tradition of the Church. [29]
  • The whole is greater than the part: This principle helps us to strike the balance between the global and the local dimensions of life so as to avoid all kinds of narrowness and banality and keep our feet on the ground where we are. It urges us to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which benefits all. This principle evokes the integrity of gospel for all people as the Good News in their concrete life situations. [30]

These four principles bring harmony and direction in our search for what is true and good for the life and mission of individuals, the community and the people of God.

3. The spiritual warfare in the human heart

Discernment cannot be reduced to a technique or a method of making right decisions, though it includes them. It is rather a way of living and acting everyday with God at the Center, assuming one’s own role and responsibility to fulfil the unique mission in the web of all the relationships that constitute God’s creation.

We can understand discernment only in the context or grace and sin. St. Augustine expresses our deepest truth, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.[31] The tensions of the sinful world are felt in the heart, the indivisible center of our being. St. Paul beautifully explains the conflicting invitations we feel in the heart, “My inmost self agrees and rejoices with the law of God, but I notice in my body another law challenging the law of the spirit, and delivering me as a slave to the law of sin written in my members.”[32] The solution to this existential dialectics in walking in the way of the Spirit. [33] Paul reminds us, “Your existence is not in the flesh, but in the spirit, because the Spirit of God is within you” (v.9). “All those who walk in the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God” (v.14). Grace and sin work also in the body of the Church, in religious communities, in families and in any social group. Sin which dwells in the members[34] can be overcome by uniting ourselves to Christ. [35] The head of the body by sharing in the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Making choices according to the Spirit is the way to grow in Christ. The gift of discernment is all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction with promises to improve life. When we are bombarded with many new trends, with great opportunities and enticing novelties knocking at our door, we have to decide whether it is “new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil.” [36] We need the gift of discernment to make Gospel-based decisions, a gift to be developed through cultivating spiritual practices as well as human competencies of mindfulness, emotional integrity and sound judgement.

4. Stages of Discernment- Growing in Christ consciousness [37]

Our spiritual taste goes through a process transformation through the encounter with the Lord and the gifts of the Spirit. Spiritual masters identify at least two stages of discernment.

The first stage, a purgative stage, takes us from the cares of the world to know God as love, and to discover who we are in God including God’s presence in our own unique history. Awareness of our own sins and God’s forgiveness enable us to have a healthy self-acceptance as sons in the Son, being purified and strengthened by God’s compassionate love. Experience of forgiveness makes us humble, and prevents us from being arrogant, argumentative or accusing. Conversion to God is the core aspect of this stage. A purified mind and heart begin to see and love oneself and others as God Does.

The major struggle in this stage is the recognition of the dynamics of sin and the opening of hearts and minds to the action of God’s grace in our lives. Sin creates a vision of life outside the logic of God’s love and places oneself at the center disconnected from the rest. Other persons and creation are perceived in terms of their usefulness to oneself. The delusion of self-sufficiency and self-assurance prevents authentic freedom and joy of life. It is a delusion to think that we can know and love God and do His will by our own efforts. In a technological and rationalistic culture, discernment may be mistaken for a technique to master the mind of God and control the course of things if humility and openness are not cultivated. The Pasqual mystery of Christ reveals the relation between love and suffering.

In the second stage, the period of discipleship, discernment becomes a habit. The Copernican revolution in spirituality is a shift in the perception about the center, from self to God. When the inner eyes are opened, we see God as the source love and goodness. We know that each person is created in the image of God and we grow in the likeness of Christ by responding to situations with the mind of Christ. Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ by moving our hearts and senses, feelings and reason, to savour God’s love and do his will. The Christ consciousness has the spiritual taste to distinguish between what is connatural to living in Christ and what is not.

Those who live in Christ are granted spiritual consolation by the Holy Spirit who works on sentiments and desires. The Spirit enlightens their intellect with reasons for their orientation to God and surrender to his will. Humility and temperance safeguard the pervading joy and peace of the soul.

However, at this stage the tempter disguises as angel of light and presents apparent good as real good, falsehood as truth. The enemy seduces with thoughts and feelings as coming from the Holy Spirit but orients the person away from doing God’s will. The fall of some spiritual persons into heresy, apostasy or moral lapses often was masterminded by the lure of worldly impulses dressed as the angel of light. Pope Francis often warns the religious and priests of the seduction of spiritual worldliness and clericalism which damages the lives of missionaries.

5. Discernment of the Spirits: Consolation and desolation

Ignatius Loyola observed his interior movements while he was savouring thoughts of heroic feats of knights and the life of saints. He noticed his inner state of consolation and desolation that signalled his closeness or distance to God’s presence. His insights on consolation and desolation are helpful tips for discernment at each stage of discernment.

Consolation is experienced when we draw closer to God and the heart opens to the gifts of deep and abiding joy and greater love. There is more compassion and Christ-like attitudes. Consolation can hold many emotions and experiences while anchored in the presence of God. For example, in the midst of calumnies and persecution outside, one experiences the consoling presence of God deep in the heart. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know” (Blaise Pascal).

Desolation is experienced when we are moving away from God and the heart remains closed to the gifts of the Spirit. In desolation we sense the growth of resentment, ingratitude, selfishness, doubt, fear, dullness, and so on. We become increasingly gloomy and self-obsessed. Either I am resisting God or I am being led away from God by other influences. In desolation, we may tend to alleviate the discomfort and gloom by having recourse to “false consolations” in eating, drinking, sexual encounters or seek distraction in work or social events.

Consolation and desolation are also employed by the enemy spirits. Hence, we should not mistake euphoria of “bubble joy” offered by sensual pleasures for the enduring deep peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Similarly, desolation experienced when the soul is away from God is different from the doubts and fears experienced by a soul in times of trial. This is why we need to discern the spirits at work in us and separate the wheat from the chaff.

We discern by looking at the root of both consolation and desolation and verify where these feelings and thoughts come from and where they take us: towards God or towards self.

6. Some means to illumine the process discernment

6.1 Prayer and spiritual practices

As we have seen that our spiritual journey is beset with many obstacles and false allurements. We need to separate the wheat from the Chaff. Both in the initial as well as the advanced stage of our spiritual journey we need to be alert to the allurements of the worldly spirits and discern the call of God in each circumstance. The most important thing to be in a discerning attitude is our dialogue with God in prayer. We keep Christ at the center and fix our hearts on the Pasqual mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection to illumine us during the process.

6.2 Holy indifference (Spiritual freedom)

We need to cultivate a holy indifference which prepares us to be open to any alternative which gets clearer as the will of God in the course of the discernment process. We can cultivate this quality by observing the affections and disaffections that arise in us and check If they come from God or not. Do they push us to react emotionally rather than act out of love? When impulses impose themselves under the guise of spiritual, religious, ethical or moral pretensions, and push for actions bereft of love, they are not arising from the free zone of the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

6.3 Humility, patience and temperance.

What is of God is humble and never showy; patient and never hasty; calm and never pushy. If we disregard the impulses from the Spirit of God, they wait at the door and knock, but never force open. God does not push for our response but attracts our free surrender. Spiritual goods do not have marketing strategies. Falsehood and superficial realities impose, excite and make theatrical show to attract attention. Hasty decisions taken in an emotionally disturbed situation are not moved by the Spirit of Christ.

6.4 Peace and joy vs euphoria.

In discernment, we need to distinguish the spiritual impulses that lead to peace and fill us with joy from those external impulses that generate instantaneous excitement and superficial wellbeing. We may feel a passing good feeling of a “bubble joy” when we go to a new place, meet new people, have new experiences or find new opportunities. When the “kick of novelty” vanishes after a short while, we may fall back into loneliness and emptiness. How often people make mistakes by choosing lifestyles, partners, jobs or other important decisions in moments of such “bubble joy”. Experience teaches that missionary vocations resulting from dramatic conversions are unlikely to persevere.

The Joy of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is silent and humble, welling up from the interior without being mediated by external events. It is the pure joy in the Spirit which Jesus himself lived[38] and his apostles were gifted. [39] It is a joy that illumines the night of the soul and gives inner assurance in times of doubts. It is a joy that evokes the memory of God’s goodness and gratitude. The joy of the Spirit eradicates fear and anxiety and gives courage to give witness in times of trial. Serene joy knows when to speak and when to be silent. It stays longer than excitement. Even when it disappears in certain life situations, it will shine like the sun behind the clouds. This silent joy is the terrain from which we can listen to the whispering of the Holy Spirit.

6.5 Good Counsel

Listening to the advice of a wise other is important for good discernment. It will help to see ourselves and the issues from a distance. Again, the enemy spirit can deceive a person by prompting him to avoid wise persons who would invite objective view of things in the light of Gospel values and look for friendly guides who would ratify pleasing choices. Claret sought the advice of trusted persons whom he knew to be men of God before taking important decisions. Involving Superiors in the process of discernment also assures the openness of the person to God’s will. When Superiors are the last ones to know a decision in the case of a religious, the discernment is unlikely to be an open search for God’s will.

7. Personal discernment as the building block of community discernment

The foundation for a good community discernment is that the members habitually practice the art of spiritual discernment in their own personal lives. Here is a schema which can help you to improve your habit of discernment and decision making.

  • MariaBring before the Lord what it is that you want to decide. Pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten and move you to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.
  • Clearly state what you are deciding about. Why did this question arise? State the question briefly and clearly. For example: How should I address this particular issue as a disciple of Christ? What are the options before me, and which one should I choose?
  • Consider all the information that you have about the issue and the options before you. If any significant information is missing, try to gather it to enrich your discernment. It is helpful to recognize that you will never have all the information about a matter at any time.
  • Prepare your heart to be indifferent towards any option “like a balance at equilibrium without leaning to either side” (St. Ignatius). Pray for the grace to do what God wants of you and keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us (to give glory to God and the integral good of humans).
  • As you move to choose from the options before you, objectify the options in two ways. First, imagine a previously unknown person who seeks your counsel to respond to God’s call in the same situation you are considering. What advice would you give this person? Second, imagine yourself at the end of your life giving an account of your life to Christ. Which of the options would you consider as pleasing to the Lord? You should choose the course of action that would make you feel proud of yourself for having made.
  • When there is no inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, you need to weigh the matter carefully listing the advantages and disadvantages of the choices at hand in relation to living out God’s will in your life. You are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the weightier motives and not from your selfish inclinations.
  • Having come to a decision, turn again to God and ask for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading you toward God’s service and praise. The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love. Feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.

The method of see, judge and act is incorporated in this approach. When the final decision on the matter pertains to your Superior, present your discerned option and the reasons for it and leave the Superior to take the decision. Your discernment is only part of the data he would need for the decision he has to discern before the Lord.

8. Practice of community discernment

As a Congregation we can walk forth with the joy of the heart when we consciously practice discernment in the Council sessions of governing bodies, local community meetings, assemblies and Chapters. According to our norms, the entire community has the mission of seeking and doing the will of God which the superiors and the other brothers carry out in unity within their different but complementary functions. [40] The gifts and resources that God has given to each of us is valuable in this process.

How does your community seek the will of God on important issues? Do you share with one another what is going on in your hearts and minds in the light of your personal prayer and reflection? How do you contribute to the collective understanding of the matter being considered?

Collective discernment bears results based on the quality of the information available to the discerners, the commitment to the integrity of the dialogue, the time available for the discernment, and the spiritual freedom of the discerners with respect to the outcome.

8.1. Preparing for Community discernment

A community which is engaging in collective discernment needs to cultivate some shared values. Here are a few important ones:

  • Desire to know God’s will.
  • Trust that God will lead the group.
  • Willingness to share and to listen with openness to differing opinions.
  • Courage to lay aside personal fears, desires, prejudices, hearsay or group pressure.
  • Readiness to let go of the desire to control the outcome.

Collective discernment needs a climate of dialogue and mutual respect and recognition of the image of God in each person irrespective of their limitations. It is not possible to enter into a process of discernment in a climate of rivalry and group fighting.

8.2 Community discernment process in four steps (an outline)[41]

Step 1: Preparing the group

The quality of community discernment depends on the quality of individual discernment of the members who are willing to place their gifts and insights in common and seek the will of God together. Decision making in community is neither democratic nor autocratic, but “pneumatocratic” (led by the Spirit) which harmoniously combines the hierarchical (role of Superiors), collegial (role of Consultors) and synodal (responsibility of all) dimensions of a faith community. Active and prayerful participation of all members is important for a fruitful community discernment. There could be different rounds of spiritual conversations to arrive at a discerned decision.

  • Begin with a moment of prayer

Take a few moments of silence. Notice what you carry with you into this time of discernment: your assumptions, agendas, tensions, feelings and thoughts. Is there anything “unfree” in you that prevents surrendering to God’s will whatever it be. The Superior/facilitator reads a suitable passage from Bible and the group contemplates it for a while.

  • Articulate an accurate question for discernment and clarify the details
  • Clarify the question: The Superior/facilitator articulates a question that accurately describes what you are seeking through the discernment process. What are we deciding about? Why did this question arise? Describe the issue that you are bringing for discernment. Agree on one-sentence question. Ask if this question most accurately describe what the group is really seeking to discern?
  • Identify key stakeholders: Include all parties affected in the issue into the discernment process. Connect them with fundamental mission. Explain spiritual conversation which is different from political debate. Take the matter together in prayer.
  • Establish group objectives: What is our most important goal based on mission, vision, values. Prioritize the objectives.
  • Clarify final decision maker: Who finally ratifies the decision? Does it require deliberative or consultative voting in council as conclusion of the discernment? Does the decision pertain to the whole community, the local council, Major Superior and his council, or General Superior and his council etc?[42] Clarify the role of the discerning group in seeking the will of God on the issue being addressed.

Step 2: Gathering of relevant data

Gather data relevant to your discernment topic through research, prayer, and dialogue. Consider all the details and implications associated with the discernment issue. Pay attention to all the ways the Spirit is seeking to be revealed through the discernment process. Consult relevant people and sources of information. Understand the data, visualize it and place it into context.

  • Present information to the group

Make sure everyone is included. Visualize and explain data. Allow time for questions and clarifications.

Some questions for gathering relevant data:

  • What do we gain and what do we lose by taking or not taking a particular decision? Is the proposed decision an urgent, timely and opportune response to the challenge faced?
  • Who are the people and systems who will be affected by the outcome of this decision?
  • What are the practical implications of what may be discerned?
  • What factors need to be considered for whatever is discerned to become a reality? (Finances, administration, physical location, relationships, systems, etc.)
  • When you imagine living out possible outcomes and doing the work associated with those outcomes, where do you sense most strongly energy and life in the Spirit?
  • Chew the data in Prayer and reflection

The group members take time to hold everything they have discovered so far in prayer. Spend time walking in nature or in silent reflection, contemplating the question for discernment without rushing to resolution. Notice what naturally arises that feels significant. As we sift through all the available information, we pay attention to what is happening in our bodies, minds, and souls. This is where we continually return to our awareness of movements of consolation (drawing nearer to God) and desolation (drawing away from God) as we interact with all the material of discernment. Something may cause you to feel an “ache in your gut” or a tightening in your chest. Another data may lead to a sense of ease, opening, and relaxing. Perhaps a way forward seems to be emerging as a good idea, yet you feel an uncomfortable. Weight within you as you consider an option.

Body: How am I feeling in my body in response to this discernment issue?

Mind: What am I currently thinking about this discernment issue? (Notice where your thoughts seem to wander, get stuck, or form patterns.)

Heart: What is moving deep within as I hold this discernment issue? (Where do I notice movements of consolation or desolation?)

Step 3: Discussion and provisional decision

  • Come together to share. They Listen to everyone’s response and Look for the deeper layer. They listen actively to one another and share their inner movements. Observe how the information impact you in your deepest self.
  • Look for pros and cons. The whole group looks at the disadvantages of each option compared to the objective. They then look at the advantages for each option. The holy indifference is the key in this process.
  • Seek emerging consensus. After holding the relevant data intentionally and prayerfully, notice if a way forward is beginning to emerge in you. Sometimes the best choice becomes gradually apparent. Other times clarity is still obscured, and more time is needed to prayerfully sift through the realities that encompass the discernment issue. Look if there is consensus emerging in the group?

In discerning as a community, it is especially important to note how the community is feeling in response to this tentative choice. Is there a growing consensus or a deepening division? Is the community beginning to feel settled or does the decision feel forced? When the superior (facilitator) gets a feel that the process is pointing towards the direction of a decision enriched by different contributions, he proceeds to articulate the emergent option for final decision.

If there is no consensus emerging in the group, there may be need for further prayerful reflection, gathering of important and missing information and collective discernment. It is always helpful to take a break before continuing with the process in the group.

  • Give time for Confirmation. Pray for confirmation of the tentative decision. When the community has chosen a tentative decision, a helpful practice is to imagine the possible outcome. Consider that you have already decided and are now living in the reality of that decision. Notice how it feels: Is there energy or dread? Is there a sense of relief or something unresolved?

The goal in discernment is faithfulness to where the Spirit is leading. Seeking confirmation invites us to bring the emerging option into another time of prayer and discernment. It is the moment we may consult trusted persons, mentors, or experts to get a third-party perspective.

One way of seeking confirmation is to look for the fruits of the Spirit in yourself and in the community. The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and selfcontrol. [43] Now it is time to finalize the option.

Step 4: Decision and Action

  • Make Final Decision. When process leads to confirmation of the tentative option, the person authorized to makes the final decision confirms and communicates to all stakeholders. If it is a consultative decision, the decision of the group is communicated to the authorized person or body with the report of the process of reaching the conclusion. g. Local community communicating its discernment on promotion of a member for final profession to the Provincial government.
  • What if no consensus? If common discernment does not bear fruits after reasonable efforts in communities or councils, the Claretian norms oblige the respective Superior to “adopt clear positions, set down proper guidelines and make the decision they prudently consider most fitting.[44] The community is bound to accept by virtue of our religious profession[45] without prejudice to the provisions of our law to disagree for a greater cause.
  • Now the community moves to the implementation phase. A decision legitimately made is owned by all irrespective of differences during the process. The whole community commits to implement the decision taken and set deadlines for action steps. It is important to keep communication flowing so that all are informed of the program of implementation as well as each one’s role in it and the deadline for action. It is vital to keep referring to the fundamental reason for the decision
  • Set a date for evaluation to see if we are effectively addressing the issue through the decision made. Know that the process of discernment is ongoing.


As discernment is a style of life seeking to walk in the Spirit of the Lord, the processes explained here makes sense only when our heart seeks the Lord and wants to follow him unconditionally. Our missionary vocation is precisely that of conforming ourselves to the Jesus of the Gospels. Our Founder lived it in his own life. In our contemporary world where Church is often scorned for the scandals of her children, we should be firm in faith, love and hope by opting to walk in the Spirit of the Risen Lord as the Christians of the early Church.

For Personal and Community Reflection

(1) Lectio Divina:

Choose any of the following passages: Jesus’ facing the temptations in the desert (Mt 4:1-11), Jesus resisting Peter’s persuasion (Mt 16:21-28), Jerusalem council (Acts 15).

(2) Some personal questions for dialogue:

How would you describe the decision-making process in your community? What improvements can the community make in its discerning and decision-making process?

(3) Personal prayer and reflexion:

Personal prayer and reflection: Make a list of three or four important crossroads in your life and how the decision you made with the grace of God makes you feel grateful and happy about them. What helped you to make those decisions? List two or three decisions you repent having made. What is that you consider went wrong in those decisions? What do you learn from it for your future?

Think of a recent event of decision making when you felt consolation and look at its source. Is it from God or from the spirit of the world? Recall another instance when you felt desolation and look at its source. Is it from the spirit of God soliciting compunction or from the bad spirit discouraging you from doing good? Apply this to decisions in community.



[1] CC 28.

[2] Pope Francis, Gaudete et exsultate, 166.

[3] MS 70, 3-4.

[4] Cf. Acts 15:28.

[5] Jer 29:11.

[6] Lk 2:49.

[7] Jn 4:34.

[8] Jn 12:27.

[9] Mk 14:34.

[10] Jn 12:27.

[11] Mk 14:36.

[12] Jn 12: 27.

[13] Mk 14:36.

[14] Cf. Lk 24:13-35.

[15] Acts 15: 1-2.

[16] Cf. Acts 15:22, 41.

[17] Antonio Ma. Claret, Aut 136; Cf. Aut 445; 754; Resolutions 1857,1862, 1865, 1870.

[18] Cf. Aut 351.

[19] Cf. Aut 113ff.

[20] Cf. Aut 170ff.

[21] Cf. Aut 496ff.

[22] Cf. EC I, 1172-1176.

[23] Cf. Lights and graces, 1857-1868.

[24] Resolutions of 1870.

[25] GE 169.

[26] Cf. GE 171, 172.

[27] MS 72.

[28] Cf. EG 226-230.

[29] Cf. EG 231-233.

[30] Cf. EG 234-237.

[31] St. Augustin, Confessions Bk I § 1.

[32] Rom 7: 22-23.

[33] Cf. Rom 8:4-17.

[34] Rom 7:17.

[35] Cf. Rom 8:1-2, 17, 35-39.

[36] EG 167.

[37] For a detailed description of these stages Cf., Marko Ivan Rupnik, Discernment, Acquiring the Heart of God (2006).

[38] Cf. Lk 10:21.

[39] Cf. Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; Act 13:52.

[40] Cf. Dir.77; CC 29.

[41] This outline is adapted mainly from two sources: leaflet titled “Discernment in Common” from Jesuit Curia in Rome and a practical guide titled “Personal and Communal Discernment Guide” published by Community of Christ, Missouri, USA, (2018).

[42] The respective Superiors should follow the norms of our law regarding matters that require deliberative votes and consultative votes in council. Cf. CC 115, 148; Dir 432, 433, 457, 495-497.

[43] Gal 5:22‐23.

[44] Dir 78.

[45] Cf. CC 31.